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Child Heart Pump Recipient Dies

A 6-year-old Houston girl who became the first patient in the world to receive a DeBakey child heart pump has died.

Anna Grudziecke died Sunday at Texas Children's Hospital. She received the pump late last month.

Although it didn't keep her alive long enough to receive a transplant, surgeons still believe the child-sized pump holds much promise for youngsters with failing hearts.

"We feel disappointed and, obviously, very sad about Anna's death," Anna's physician, Dr. Charles D. Fraser Jr., chief of cardiovascular surgery at Texas Children's Heart Center, said in a story in Monday night's online edition of the Houston Chronicle. "But we are very grateful to her family for taking this courageous step forward. This experience with the device has left us emboldened about using it going forward."

The DeBakey ventricular assist device for children helps weakened hearts pump blood throughout the patient's body by supplementing the pumping ability of the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart.

Anna's heart muscle had thickened, causing it to stiffen and deteriorate.

Fraser said having something to offer children in Anna's position was a relief.

"It was horrible to stand at the bedside, with a sick child who is dying, and have no options at all," he said.

Several U.S. children, including a 22-month-old Indianapolis boy, have been implanted with another heart pump, a European device called the Berlin Heart.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration last month gave heart transplant centers the option to use the DeBakey pump on an emergency basis. Prior to that, Fraser said, surgeons had to use pumps that worked on the outside of the body and worked only temporarily.

"Historically, when children's hearts were failing, it was kind of a desperate situation," he said. "Now we have a good option."

Adult patients have survived for more than a year with the DeBakey heart pump. It has been implanted into more than 200 patients.

In recent years heart surgeons have turned more toward heart pumps as an alternative to artificial hearts.

Several pumps are available in the United States, including HeartMate by Thoratec of Pleasanton, Calif., and the Novacor by World Heart of Ottawa, Canada. Both devices are in thousands of patients and both are larger than the DeBakey pump.

The device implanted into Anna, manufactured by MicroMed Technology of Houston, is a smaller version of the company's regular heart pump, the Chronicle says. The new children's pump — the MicroMed/DeBakey child ventricular assist device — is even smaller than the adult pump, which measures 1 inch by 3 inches and weighs only 4 ounces, the newspaper notes.

The Chronicle adds that the DeBakey pump has roots in the space program.

"Nearly two decades ago DeBakey and another surgeon, Dr. George Noon, performed heart transplant surgery on NASA engineer David Saucier," the newspaper explains. "The success of the procedure prompted Saucier to consider the possibility of adapting space technology to treat heart disease.

"Saucier found the answer inside the shuttle's fuel tanks, where a powerful pump passes high-pressure liquid hydrogen from chamber to chamber. NASA funded research to miniaturize the pump," the Chronicle continued.

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